Mid-Century Modernists

Jules Engel, Quadrangle: Pilgrims And Indians (1956)

Several pioneering L.A. abstractionists were active in the animation studios; Jules Engel, in fact, replaced Oskar Fischinger at Disney. A small survey of Engel’s animation work at Tobey Moss includes his studies for the “Chinese Mushroom Dance” and other Fantasia faves. But things really get interesting in the work Engel did after the war, when he moved to the new, experimental UPA studios and unleashed a much more stylized, angular kind of drawing, matched by a much more fractured, conceptual kind of storyline. Mr. Magoo, Engel’s baby, was relatively mellifluous compared to the mid-century spikiness and standup absurdity of Gerald McBoing-Boing or the slapstick simplicity of Alvin and the Chipmunks (one of Engel’s post-UPA series). So the kids who would become Engel’s students at CalArts grew up on his TV fare. And when they got to school, Engel encouraged them to push the envelope further, as he was doing with geometries in motion (Train Landscape, Mobiles) and elusive figures (Accident).

Around the same time Engel was making Alvin, Connor Everts was making figures that would get him attention outside the art world as well. In fact, these smoothly rendered but roughly conceived apparitions — large drawings and lithographs, for the most part — would get him busted on obscenity charges. Rather less explicit or confrontational than the work that got Wallace Berman and Ed Kienholz in similar trouble, Everts’ “Studies in Desperation” were no less passionate in their symbolic depiction of nuclear-age fear and confusion. Don’t go looking for what got Everts in hot water; the artist was acquitted, and the work itself is more interesting for its gnarled, haunting imagery than for any naughty bits. Forty-plus years on, the “Studies in Desperation” affect us the way they were meant to. Jules Engel at Tobey C. Moss, 7321 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; thru Aug. 31. (323) 933-5523. Connor Everts at Cardwell Jimmerson, 8568 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Aug. 25. (310) 815-1100.

—Peter Frank

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